CREEPY, thriller, not rated, in Japanese with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
Casting aside the unlikelihood that a former detective who has been helping the police with a cold case would just happen to be the neighbor of a serial killer connected to that case, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new film is an effective cat-and-mouse thriller that slowly reveals a sinister and macabre scenario.
Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is retired from the police force after his failed intervention in a hostage situation left an innocent victim dead. Having just moved into a new neighborhood, Takakura is teaching criminal studies at a university when a colleague’s research into a missing persons case piques his interest. A daughter (Haruna Kawaguchi), who was away at school when her entire family disappeared, has only vague memories of what happened before they vanished. She mistrusts the police, who put her through the ringer with their questioning before the case went cold. A friend on the force (Masahiro Toda) asks for Takakura’s help in questioning her further, thinking he might gain her trust.
Meanwhile, Takakura’s wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) has been getting to know the neighbor Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a mistrustful, antisocial man who seems to lack all sense of propriety. He passes himself off as a family man, with a sickly wife whom no one has seen and a young daughter who, in a desperate moment, tells Takakura that Nishino is not really her father. The other neighbors don’t like him, and he triggers Takakura’s cop instincts. But though Yasuko fears Nishino, she also seems drawn to him, inexplicably defending him to her husband.
Creepy telegraphs its antagonist from his first introduction — there’s no mystery there. The pleasure is in watching Takakura put the pieces together before it’s too late. Nishino slowly insinuates himself between Takakura and Yasuko, taking advantage of the fact that their relationship has grown distant, and he does so with glee, channeling the spirit of Peter Lorre without slipping into imitation. The film is effective in keeping the audience in the dark about the nature of Yasuko and Nishino’s relationship. Nishino has a way of making his victims obedient to his will. But what seems like a confounding lack of communication between Takakura and Yasuko has a purpose behind it. There are reasons Yasuko doesn’t tell her husband about Nishino’s advances — and the greater atrocities she witnesses inside his home — even when doing so would help the case.
Creepy is most effective in its first half and trods more familiar territory in its second, but it offers a unique spin on serial killer thrillers. The set-up is plainly ridiculous and farfetched, but it is directed with a steady hand, is well-acted, and delivers the chills. The final scene recalls the conclusion of Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General in one respect — a guttural scream of horror, the only appropriate response to everything that has come before. — Michael Abatemarco
Masahiro Toda and Hidetoshi Nishijima; above, from left to right, Ryoko Fujino, Nishijima, and Teruyuki Kagawa